You may be adept with your snazzy 3-D video camera or have encyclopedic knowledge of local market data, but are these traits enough to get clients to commit to you? According to the National Association of REALTORS® 2016 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers, consumers generally say they value your guidance in the home-search process, your marketing skills, and your negotiating prowess. But you have to delve deeper to uncover the specific challenges individual clients want you to solve.
Here, three consumers recount the ups and downs they experienced in the sale or purchase of their home and explain what they valued most in their agent.
Hands-on Help to Move On
Julie Johnson was dealing with one of the toughest periods of her life when she decided to put her home on the market a year ago. She needed a quick sale not because she was upsizing, moving closer to friends and family, or relocating for a job—the three most common seller motivations, according to the NAR report. After being laid off from her job of 25 years as an advertising executive and going through two years of medical treatment for breast cancer, Johnson, 65, had trouble keeping up, both physically and financially, with her four-bedroom house in Oakland, Calif. She had been living off her savings for more than a year, an unsustainable plan.
But leaving the home she had lived in for 16 years was difficult for Johnson to accept. She remembers the two-level house with an expansive deck as her place of Zen, where she practiced Buddhism and taught friends and family chants for world peace. “My home was a very happy one. There was so much love and joy—so many wonderful memories,” Johnson says. “I really wanted a family to move in. But I just needed help because it was really hard for me.” The transaction was her first as a seller, which added to the anxiety she felt.
When she was looking for a real estate agent, Johnson remembered that she had met Cameron Platt, CRS, broker-partner at Abio Properties in Oakland, through a friend some time before. She bonded with him over their professional backgrounds. “In talking with him about his business, I realized our sales philosophies were similar: Take care of the customer, and the rest will fall in place,” Johnson recalls.
She called Platt for a listing consultation and decided to hire him after he presented a thorough plan for getting her home market-ready, a task Johnson found particularly daunting. She needed to focus on moving in with friends and looking for an apartment, not tending to home repairs. So Platt and his team managed the process, bringing in painters, contractors, and inspectors. The cost of the repairs totaled close to $20,000, but Johnson paid only one-third up front, covering the rest with proceeds from the sale. “They brought in staging that was beautiful and ordered inspections for mold and water damage—things I had never thought of,” Johnson says. “It was so valuable to me that they were problem-solvers.”
“We pride ourselves on providing concierge-level service, which is important to people like Julie who are in stressful situations,” Platt says. “We project-manage our listing prep to a very high degree, and once we laid out what we could do for her, she placed her trust in us completely.”
After getting 10 offers on her home, Johnson, who is now cancer-free, sold in April 2016 for $100,000 over her $545,000 asking price—a great value in her high-priced area given that the buyer took responsibility for removing termites and replacing the property’s sewer system. Johnson was so impressed with Platt’s attentiveness that she’s now talking with him about buying a condo. “For me, it was ‘selling a house for dummies’ because I knew nothing, and he took me every step of the way,” Johnson says. “It was just pure customer service.”
Better Than the Internet
When Zach Henault, 28, of Austin, Texas, was looking to purchase his first home in 2015, the last thing he wanted to do was research the homebuying process. Unlike the 86 percent of buyers who say the internet was their top source of information when searching for a home, Henault didn’t have time outside his 60- to 80-hour work week as a client retention specialist with social media management firm Sprinklr to investigate items such as lenders and financing options.
So it was important to him that his real estate agent, Chloe Elyse Chiang, srs, a sales associate with Twelve Rivers Realty in Austin, was a longtime friend—someone he could trust implicitly, who understood his lifestyle and could present clear options within his budget. “Doing that research is a full-time job in and of itself,” says Henault, who closed on a three-bedroom, three-bathroom bungalow in April 2015.
Chiang compiled an extensive homebuying checklist of items Henault needed to complete, and “60 to 70 percent were things I didn’t even know were part of the process,” he says, such as getting prequalified for a mortgage and saving for an earnest money deposit. Chiang also made a spreadsheet of the three financing options that would work best for Henault’s situation, with bullet points on how to qualify for each. “She made it as simple as possible for me and relieved me of a lot of work on my end,” Henault says. “It’s not that I couldn’t have gotten this information for myself. But having someone who not only does the work for you but then is able to explain what it all means is invaluable.”
Chiang, who specializes in working with millennials, says many of her clients rely on her as the gatekeeper of information they need to know. She’s learned to present data concisely and visually so they can more easily understand what she’s saying. “My clients like Zach get overwhelmed with their options, and they’re skeptical of things they read online,” Chiang says, adding that they often double-check information with her to make sure it’s accurate. “When I earn a client’s trust, they tend to put more faith in me to handle the details of the process.”
Making a Personal Investment
Mary Swafford and her husband, David, both 59, owned four rental properties in their hometown of Norman, Okla. Their two daughters lived in the rentals when they were in college; the couple and also rented out properties to their kids’ friends. So when the couple decided to diversify their portfolio earlier this year and purchase an investment property in Rosemary Beach, Fla., where vacation rental prices are soaring, they had a fairly developed idea of what they wanted in an agent.
“Sometimes, it has felt like I’m doing all the work as the buyer, and all the agent is doing is unlocking the door,” Swafford says, adding that many pros suggest properties they—not the client—think are good investments. “I needed somebody who would really listen to what I was looking for, not tell me what they thought I should be looking for.”
While living in Oklahoma, the Swaffords began working with Beau Blankenship, a sales associate with Engel & Völkers in Destin, Fla., who is also a family friend. They would look at listings from afar and travel to Florida for in-person showings. Blankenship says he has intimate knowledge of the inventory in his area so he can make the process speedy for his investors. “Once you know what they’re looking for in an investment or second home, you can narrow [their choices] down pretty quickly,” he says.
Swafford says when she didn’t like a property, Blankenship didn’t try to change her mind. “I am not one of those people who need a lot of hand-holding,” Swafford says. “I can walk in a house and know within five minutes if I even want to go upstairs.”
The Swaffords closed on a 2,700-square-foot four-bedroom, four-bathroom house in February. Now, Swafford says, Blankenship is helping them find painters and contractors to spruce the home up for renting. “That’s huge that he can help me through this from five states away,” she says. “We don’t have time to waste, and I appreciate that he’s right there with me.”
Hannah Callaghan and her husband, Kyle, an active military member, have lived in four different states in the last eight years because of his career. But some of their experiences with real estate agents—whom the couple hoped would help make their transitions easier—have left much to be desired.
When the couple, both in their early 30s, moved to Evans, Ga., in 2015, the agent they worked with to buy a home wasn’t attentive, Callaghan says. “She knew she was going to get business no matter what because there was so much military turnover there, so it didn’t seem like we were a high priority to her.” In emails, the agent would refer to the couple as Hannah and Chad. “She couldn’t even get my husband’s name right,” Callaghan says.
Now with a 4-month-old son, Graham, the Callaghans are moving from Georgia to Eldersburg, Md., where Kyle has been stationed. So they wanted an agent with stronger communication skills who would show more concern for their best interests. When another military family they know recommended Lisa Kittleman, a sales associate with Keller Williams Integrity in Ellicott City, Md., they were immediately attracted to her warm personality.
Since the Callaghans were conducting their search online from Georgia, Kittleman regularly held consultations and even home tours with them over FaceTime. “She truly made us feel like we were her only clients, even when we weren’t there,” Callaghan says.
Callaghan particularly appreciated that Kittleman’s property suggestions were tailored specifically to her family’s situation. Kittleman recommended looking at homes that were recently renovated or flipped because their resale value should hold up if the Callaghans have to move again on short notice. “A lot of young buyers think about resale value, but it’s definitely a bigger concern for military families who might be in the home for only two years,” Kittleman says. “When I found a property I knew would fit their needs, I drove to the house the day it came on the market and FaceTimed with Hannah and Kyle. They loved it and wrote an offer that day.”
The Callaghans closed on their recently flipped three-bedroom Colonial in March. “It was so nice to work with someone who is professional but also someone you can talk to as a friend,” Callaghan says. “Lisa wants her clients to feel appreciated, and we hadn’t felt that way with other agents. She wanted us to have what we wanted.”